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Alzheimer's Advocates Fight for Piece of Research Pie

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Smith is putting together a bill that would seek to establish such a fund, which he hopes to bring forward in a few weeks.

Advocates for the roughly 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s and their families had something to cheer when the recent fiscal 2014 spending bill was signed into law. The measure included hard-fought funding to help address the disease at a level that the Alzheimer’s Association called unprecedented.

In the grand scheme of things, however, advocates acknowledge that those funds are only a modest step toward their goal of finding a cure. The top barrier to developing treatments is the level of investment, they say, and they plan to continue to push for additional money.

Some are also lining up behind the idea of establishing a global fund for Alzheimer’s modeled after international efforts to address HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Rep. Christopher H. Smith is putting together a bill that would seek to establish such a fund, which he hopes to bring forward in a few weeks.

“If there’s a cure out there, that kind of global urgency and interest and scrutiny of all things that lead to Alzheimer’s will make a difference,” the New Jersey Republican said.

The lack of a cure — or even a way to stop its progression — has made Alzheimer’s the sixth leading cause of death in the nation, according to figures from the Alzheimer’s Association. One in 9 Americans age 65 and older has the brain disease, the group said, while the ratio jumps to 1 in 3 for those 85 and older.

Alzheimer’s “slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living,” in the words of the National Institute on Aging. The agency, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, said the disease is the most common cause of dementia among the elderly; symptoms typically first emerge after age 60.

The $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill (PL 113-76) included $1.2 billion for the National Institute on Aging, which Senate appropriations aides said is a $131 million increase over actual fiscal 2013 spending. In the explanatory statement accompanying the bill, appropriators said they expect a “significant portion” of the boost to go toward research on Alzheimer’s, leaving the specific amount to the agency to avoid what they described as politicizing the peer review system.

The bill also included funding to support caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s, training for health professionals and outreach activities.

“This is a significant, much-needed investment in Alzheimer’s research,” said Robert Egge, the Alzheimer’s Association’s vice president of public policy. “We were pushing very hard for the increase.”

George Vradenburg, chairman and co-founder of USAgainstAlzheimer’s, said the lawmakers’ move is a signal that they recognize the problem.

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